Adobe Creative Suite 5

AdobeMaster Collection – $4,344, Production Premium – $2,840, Design Premium – $3,175, Web Premium – $3,005

Little more than a year since the release of Creative Suite 4, Adobe are releasing another update that once again adds even more applications (and functions in existing applications) than you thought possible.

CS5 comes in only four kinds (Master Collection, Production Premium, Design premium and Web Premium), and simplifying the options was a good move after the confusing multiple releases of older versions.

We were curious to see how long it took to install the Suite after the interminable wait of the previous version. We installed the Master Collection (18 applications in all) on our test machine (a Macbook Pro with 4GB of RAM and a 2.53GHz Intel processor) and the process took an hour and 45 minutes, not dissimilar from the Master Collection of CS4. Somewhat disturbingly, the installation finished with a message reading ‘there were problems with your installation’, but the offending dialogue box didn’t tell us what the problems were and using the software as normal didn’t reveal anything amiss.

Executing heavy functions like a large render in AFterEffects or footage or a filter action in Photoshop was pretty timely. There wasn’t a lot of improvement over the performance of similar functions in CS4 but that’s to be expected — even though it seems to be taking of some processing efficiencies, CS5 is a much fatter beast.

There are changes across the board. Several components including Photoshop, AfterEffects and Premiere Pro are now optimised for 64 bit systems, so you should get a jolt of extra grunt at the higher end of the scale. Similar future proofing has gone into Dreamweaver, which is fully HTML5 compliant in anticipation of the approaching update and which might be the saving grace of the Suite if Apple gets its way. If you haven’t been following, the two computing giants have been embroiled in a global-scale dust-up over Apple’s decision not to support Flash on the iPad.

If the Flash-free iPad becomes the de facto standard for portable media consumption like many believe, Flash’s days might be numbered. If they are, HTML 5 supports embedding video and many other traditionally Flash-based functions, but the timing still isn’t good now Adobe have radically expanded the Flash toolset.

As well as Flash Pro there are two new Flash products (Builder and Catalyst) to aid in Flash programming. The latter is for designers who don’t ‘do’ code, Adobe promising to make it easy for them to create Flash applications and layouts intuitively. Catalyst indeed does a good job putting programming capability in the hands of non-geeks, but there are still barriers in terminology and Flash behaviour and conventions that will trip you up until you get a little practice.

Things have improved at the film, video and sound end too. The number of cameras supported in their native formats is growing all the time, including the recent addition of the RED digital range.

A big plus is the functions you can apply to a single frame of footage that are carried through a clip, like the rotoscope brush. Use it to select edges in a single frame and you can apply the effect (such as isolating the element for use against a virtual greenscreen) throughout the shot. A single keystroke moves you back or forward a frame at a time where you can make any refinements with the brush.

Another big addition is Color Finesse, which lets you save colour adjustment profiles or lookup tables. Just send them to other editors and the effect you’re working on can be applied instantly to another clip in a project without a colleague having to replicate it from scratch. Animated text has also been given a shot in the arm, giving you an active camera that can auto-orient as you move it around, adjusting the text in 3D space as you move.

Like every other software vendor on the planet, Adobe is pushing cloud services. Adobe Story lets you write, share and edit your project’s script across the internet (or locally using Adobe AIR, the framework that manages applications like TweetDeck). Once done, you can apply markers in the script, match them up to footage as you shoot it and have a complete record of shortcuts for easy navigation through the project.

Obviously it can help with continuity and other organisational duties, but here’s the real kicker. When your film goes all the way through the process to the DVD export, it still holds the Story metadata, enabling a text-based search of the scripted dialogue that lets you jump right to that point in the movie.

It wouldn’t be a new release of Creative Suite without some cool toys in Photoshop, and in this case it’s Content Aware Fill. How many times has a client said ‘I just want that guy taken out, won’t the tree behind him just show up?’ Adobe knows where that uneducated client is coming from, and the content aware fill comes the closest you can get without magic to erasing an object and leaving the background where it used to be. You wield it as a brush like the clone or healing brush tool, and it references nearby pixels to fill in the background from nearby. Watch some examples on YouTube — given certain kinds of backgrounds, the results are flawless.